Thursday, April 17, 2014

Happy 50th Birthday Ford Mustang!

Happy 50th birthday Ford Mustang!

Yep, the good old Mustang turns the big 5-0 today. Perhaps no American car evokes notions of freedom, speed, rebellion and pure road power like the Mustang. It's introduction five decades ago, just as Baby Boomers aged into driving age young adults, ushered in a new era of cars...taking automobiles from forms of transportation (economic or luxury) to an exciting expression of personality, youth and breaking with tradition.

I was too young to experience the first generation of Mustang when they were new. But, by the time I was old enough to think about things like cars, the Mustang instantly stuck out to me as the obvious cool American car. Whether in the movies or driving down the street...when I saw a 1960s Mustang (and in particular a fastback) I thought..."Man, that's is so cool. I want one of those."

So, on this anniversary, below is a quick history of the car followed by a shot of the Mustang I  did eventually buy...

Under the project leadership of Lee Iacocca, in the the middle of 1964 the first model rolled off the assembly line and went on sale to the public. Here's a picture of one of those first versions:

1964 1/2 Ford Mustang
Initially marketed to women drivers as a practical, sporty car, it didn't take long for other demographics (male, young) to become interested given the car's looks and nascent horsepower.

From there, yearly updates and upgrades in the look and power plant turned the attractive, zippy "sports" car into a powerful and very fast "muscle car"...but not just A muscle car, THE muscle car.

A buddy of mine had a metallic green 1966 Mustang coupe during our time in high school (1984-1988), and we had fun working on its engine and roaring around in it. I seem to recall one incident of catching some air one night on a hilly suburban back street. Good times.

 Below are some other Ford Mustangs from the 1960s and early 1970s:

1966 Mustang Fastback
1965 Mustang Coupe
1972 Mustang
1968 Mustang

As you can see, the Mustang evolved into a bigger and bigger vehicle with correspondingly bigger and bigger engine options. 

Other car companies followed suit in the late 60s and a whole class of muscle cars came on the scene during that same era, each year getting faster and sleeker. You know these cars: Chevy Camero and Chevelle, Plymouth Barracuda, Pontiac GTO, Dodge Challenger and others.

But, by the early 1970s things changed. For safety reasons and in reaction to the oil crisis, muscle cars basically went away as Detroit focused on smaller, more fuel efficient cars. During this change, the Mustang brand didn't dispensary, but the car became much smaller, less powerful and used less fuel. While there are some who are loyal to their "second generation" Mustang IIs of the mid/late 1970s, there aren't too many. Perhaps you can tell why from this picture...

Mustang II of the 1970s
The 1980s saw a re-birth of a more powerful Mustang. Updated styling helped sell more units too. While perhaps not as cool as the 1960s models, this "third generation" of the car re-booted the brand in a positive direction.  This version lasted into the early 1990s. Along the way, however, Ford almost discontinued the Mustang in favor of the Ford Probe. All concerned are glad they did not. Here's a Mustang from the tubular times know as the 1980s...

1986 Ford Mustang
In 1993, Ford introduced a "fourth generation" of the Mustang. Looking a bit more like the originals, this version also had increasingly more powerful engine options. All told, it moved the needle further on building a modern Mustang following.  

1998 Form Mustang
And then finally, in 2005, Ford went full retro with the Mustang and introduced the "fifth generation." Taking major styling queues from the famous Mustang fastbacks of the late 60s, these new Mustangs also incorporated big horsepower V8 and V6 engine options (for example, the V6 option has more horsepower than many of the V8s of the 1960s). Throw in GT and Cobra versions and you have some serious horsepower that's as appealing as the look.

Indeed, Ford went all the way to reel in young and old Mustang fans alike - either you were re-visiting your youth with a new version of a car you once had OR you were able to buy a brand new Mustang that was very similar in look to the originals you coveted from the past. I fit the second category in 2006 when I finally bought one. Here it is:

My 2006 Ford Mustang (C) Marc Osborn
Notice how much it looks like the ones from the 1960s? The front end with its overhanging hood, the light assembly, badging, the fastback slope...all taken from the legendary designs. Over the years, I've received comments from quite a few people saying how cool the car is and how Ford "really brought the Mustang back." And it's interesting that the types of people making the comments vary widely. About half have been middle age guys..which you'd expect. But, I've had similar comments ("love your car," "sweet ride," "go Mustang" and similar) from younger guys, women and - in one case - some enthusiastic praise from a car full of young women as I drove along in my home town one evening. 

Did I mention the Mustang is cool?

From 2005 to 2011, the Mustang pretty much looked the same with a few modifications here and there. In 2012 Ford made some more aggressive changes that, while still technically built on the "fifth generation model," moved the design in a more modern, technical direction. I was not thrilled.

And now, to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the car, Ford is introducing a "sixth generation" Mustang - one that it has built, for the first time, to meet global standards, tastes and budgets. You know Ford wants to sell this thing all over the world.

This generation furthers the modern styling trend, moving more away from the retro classic look of the fifth generation models. Notice that the rear window is now not separate, a more "jelly bean" shape, headlamps positioned almost on the side of the quarter panels and less pronounced slope to the fastback. To me, it looks more like a typical sporty hatchback than a Ford Mustang. 

But in any case, whatever I feel about this new version, I think the point is that instead of phasing the Mustang out (Probe) or turning it into something unrecognizable (Mustang II), Ford is instead investing in the Mustang as one of its premier vehicles and continuing to include styling queues from its illustrious history. With these moves, it appears the Mustang will be around a long time to come. 

And for all that - the history and the future - I say HAPPY 50th BIRTHDAY FORD MUSTANG!

NOTE: The photo of the black 2006 Mustang in this post was taken by Marc Osborn. Marc Osborn owns the copyright on the image and no use of it for any purpose is permitted without prior written permission from Marc Osborn.

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